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Laurette Willis’ Story
Hatha Yoga Teacher for 25 Years Then God Asks a "Dangerous Question"

When I was a little girl growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, I felt very close to God—but it wasn’t the God I experienced in the church we attended. That God seemed rather distant and stuffy. My mother enjoyed telling the story of what happened the first time we went to that church when I was three years old. As we sat in the crowded sanctuary that hot and humid Sunday morning I screamed, “Get me out of here!” In time, I became accustomed to their reserved, traditional type of worship. I memorized the prayers and knew exactly when we were supposed to kneel, cross ourselves and answer in unison. I could mimic Reverend Palmer’s British accent when he said that Jesus is “our only mediator and advocate.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I liked the way he said it. I did my best to imitate his round vowels under my breath, until my mother would tell me to stop.

How different that was from my experiences with God in my room! I had an illustrated children’s Bible and enjoyed telling my stuffed animals the stories by looking at the pictures before I could read the words. I would place them in a semi-circle around me, show them the pictures, and act out the stories using a variety of different accents and animal sounds. I enjoyed seeing how many voices and characters I could create. This ability with dialects came in handy in later years as an actor, storyteller and comedienne Off-Broadway known as “The Woman of 101 Voices.”

I did my best to come up with a punch line at the end of each Bible story to make God laugh. I figured He had such a hard job that He needed a good chuckle now and then. During the account of Daniel in the lions’ den—when God spared the prophet’s life by sending an angel to close the lions’ mouths—I suggested the head lion mumbled, “No lunch today, boys!” Then I told my captive audience how God said to Noah, “Build Me an ark!” And Noah said, “Okay, God. That’s right up my alley!” As an aside, I added, “Won’t God get a kick out of that?” And I believed He absolutely did!

Hearing God’s Voice in the Closet

As a small child, whenever someone hurt my feelings, I ran home crying and hid in my bedroom closet. If Robbie Wolfe said I was fat, or Willie Woods pushed me in my little red bathing suit into the bramble bushes, or Karen Duzy didn’t want to play with me, it was hard to hold back the tears. I’d run home as fast as I could. The moment the closet door was shut, I was safe. Sitting on a pile of shoes and toys, hidden among the shirts and dresses, no one could hurt me.

For three years God met me in that closet. Tears streaming down my face, I shut the door and sat in the comforting darkness. At times I would see a flash of light. Then a bright scene appeared on the inside of the closet door as if it were a movie screen. In this open-eyed vision I stood behind a curtain and watched an adult version of myself onstage in front of a vast outdoor audience. The grown-up Laurette had one hand lifted high above her head and appeared to be speaking or singing into a microphone in the other hand. In front of me were thousands of people who also had their hands lifted toward the sky.

I instinctively knew the people were worshiping God, even though I’d never witnessed such behavior at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. The only time I’d seen people’s hands go above waist-level was to hold a hymnal. Years later I learned that was a common way to worship God in ancient Israel and the early Christian church and it is still practiced today. After a few seconds the vision would fade and I would hear a comforting voice over my right shoulder. “Everything is going to be all right.” In my heart, I knew this was God’s voice. His voice hugged me and gave me peace. “Everything’s gonna be all right,” I repeated after Him, sniffling and wiping my tears on my sleeve. Standing up, I opened the door and stepped out of the closet to face the world again.

This happened many times over a three-year period between the ages of three and six. Nothing seemed unusual about these encounters, probably because I had nothing with which to compare them. Whenever I was upset, I knew I could run into my closet and hide from the world, but not from God. He met me there and comforted me. He always understood, showed me what I believed was a vision of my future, and gave me blessed assurance. I could trust Him. He would never hurt or disappoint me.

The Wall Came Up

When I was six years old, something changed. I no longer felt that closeness with the Lord. It seemed like there was a thick wall around me, separating me, shielding me from everyone and everything. I felt safe inside this walled ‘fortress,’ but I also felt empty and alone—except when Mommy and I would play. We’d giggle like girlfriends as we took long walks through the neighborhood holding hands. Acting out all the characters to the Peter Pan album I got for Christmas, we’d fly around the playroom singing “I won’t grow up!” Snuggling together on the couch, we read Little Women aloud with English accents.

My beautiful mother Jacqueline was a petite, blue-eyed strawberry-blonde. She was brilliant and funny, with a voice like warm honey: an Irish colleen who spoke fluent Spanish and enjoyed parsing words back to their Latin origins. A frustrated actor and singer, she was an attorney and the first woman Assistant District Attorney on Long Island. I was so proud of her.

Although I could never believe it, I loved when people said, “You’re just like your mother.” She was stunning. I felt ugly. Sadly, this remarkable woman with the movie star good looks, brilliant mind and tender heart became an alcoholic who had three nervous breakdowns and attempted suicide when I was a child. Things looked so perfect on the outside of our beautiful home on Long Island, but behind closed doors were pain, torment and tears. To compensate, I soon developed an unhealthy attachment to food. I remember running into my parents’ bedroom and kneeling beside the bed. On a bright, beautiful mid-afternoon in suburban Long Island, Mommy was asleep in her darkened bedroom. Was she depressed, or had she been drinking?

I was small, a little pudgy, with dimpled hands and knees, my round “Campbell kids” face framed with a brunette pixie cut. Tears pooled in bright amber eyes and flowed down chubby little cheeks as I patted Mommy’s face. “Mommy! Mommy!” I cried. “I can’t stop eating.”

For the past hour the little girl her mother called “Little Laurie So-Sweet” had been eating bread and butter, Easy-Bake Oven cake mix, cereal and anything else I could find to comfort me while Mommy slept. I was six years old and food was my friend. It’s surprising that I didn’t become heavier than I did. I attribute this to my mother becoming the town’s first “health-food nut,” as people interested in nutrition were called in the 1960s. When Mom was following a healthy diet, taking vitamins and exercising daily she didn’t drink alcohol as much—sometimes not at all, which was marvelous to me.

While other children’s lunchboxes had Twinkies and Yodels with their bologna sandwiches on white bread, I had celery sticks and apple slices with my tuna sandwich on whole grain bread. I didn’t seem to mind the kids’ taunts about the weird food. I made it a game. I could eat carrot sticks like a rabbit and do an impression of Bugs Bunny to make them laugh. Ah—an audience! I loved it. Over the next twenty-plus years, food became my primary escape. If I ate enough, it numbed me. Then progressively, from the age of thirteen onward, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, reckless relationships and spiritual practices were some of the things I used to fill the missing piece inside since “the wall” went up—the barrier separating me from God. Numbness, I discovered, is a poor substitute for peace.

The Little Yogi

When I was seven years old my mother became involved in yoga. A nice-looking Asian couple had a popular daytime yoga program on television. It was scheduled right after Jack LaLanne’s exercise show. It seemed so harmless, so relaxing and so spiritual. The exercises relaxed Mom. Being an only child, my mother and I did almost everything together. We did yoga exercises together too. When she began teaching free yoga classes to high school and college students in our home, I was the little demonstration model. I loved the attention. My father thought it was all rather kooky, but he was busy building his law practice and didn’t pay much attention to what we did when he wasn’t home.

For several years Mom and I visited Ananda Ashram, a yoga retreat in upstate New York associated with Swami Satchidananda. When I was ten years old, the Swami visited the ashram while we were there and ‘blessed’ me. His smell was overpoweringly sweet. His long, wavy black hair was heavy with oil, and always looked wet as it flowed over his saffron shoulders. Perhaps I was supposed to feel ‘special’ and ‘empowered’ by the attention. I just felt uncomfortable.

During meditation times, I wouldn’t keep my eyes closed. I kept peeking at all the serene-looking adults in the room as we sat cross-legged in the lotus posture, incense filling the air. I liked doing the exercises better. For twenty-two years I was an avid student of Hatha Yoga, and was an instructor for part of that time. I also practiced Kundalini Yoga. During my late teens and 20s I studied a variety of spiritual practices, seeking to recover the God of my childhood (though I didn’t recognize that motive at the time). I just knew something was missing. Everything I studied, every conference I attended, every book I read and every course I took was an attempt to find the God who loved me and laughed at my jokes.

My studies included a variety of metaphysical philosophies and practices from A to Z: Astrology to Zoroastrianism; Kabbalah, Mystical Christianity, Hinduism, various types of yoga, shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism, Universal Mind, Hawaiian Huna, Urantia, Course in Miracles and writings from other channeled entities, spirit guides and Ascended Masters. Most of the world views I studied encouraged followers to ‘create their own reality’ and ‘be their own god.’ Each held such promise, but left me feeling lonely and groping for answers. The people I associated with during this time were as lost as I was. None of the teachers seemed to walk in the love and joy they espoused. After decades of searching, I still could not find a person I considered to be truly ‘enlightened.’

An Overwhelming Tragedy

In my 20s I lived in New York City and was the typical ‘struggling actor.’ I lived in the East Village and worked part-time as a secretary and waitress “to support my acting habit,” as I put it. I fearfully went to auditions on my days off, but most of the time I drank white wine, watched television and read New Age books.

In March, 1982, I visited my mother who was working as an attorney for the Thruway Authority in upstate New York. She and my stepfather, Fred, were separated and Mom was very depressed. We got drunk together. “I feel dead inside,” Mom said. I tried to encourage her with Tarot card readings and prompted her to get in touch with the light within, but nothing seemed to help. She said she felt as if she had no hope. There was a great sadness in her eyes. She looked totally lost.

A week later I got a call from Fred. My mother had aimed a .357 Magnum at her heart and pulled the trigger. She missed the first time, but the second attempt hit its mark. The first bullet lodged itself in the bedroom wall, prompting police investigators to consider her death was a homicide, but they later ruled it a suicide. I was grateful for that. As horribly painful as her passing was, I couldn’t stand the thought of someone else taking her life. My boyfriend, Damien, and my stepfather tried to keep me out of the bedroom where Mom took her life. While they were out, I carefully wiped up her blood from the wooden floorboards and wall. I didn’t want anyone else to do it. Crying, I held her hairbrush close to my face, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Her scent was still there, but she was gone.

 “You’re Just Like Your Mother.”

As the months passed, I drank more and went to fewer auditions. They scared me. Almost everything scared me or made me feel insecure. I walked along the streets with my eyes downcast. Talking to people frightened me, but it was easier after a few drinks. Every so often I would hear a voice in my head say the words that used to delight me, “You’re just like your mother.” Now the idea just tormented me.

A talent with character voices and dialects landed me a job with the First Amendment Comedy & Improvisation Company Off-Broadway. It was there that I was given the nickname “The Woman of 101 Voices.” I did the one-woman performance, “The Betty Boop Show,” and appeared on television with the woman who did the original voices for Betty Boop and Popeye’s Olive Oyl, Mae Questel. People said I was “the funniest woman they had ever seen.”

While confident on-stage, I felt insecure off-stage. I continued my search for inner peace and spiritual enlightenment.  I practiced meditation, chanting, aura balancing, chakra cleansing, levitation, past life recall, psychism, and channeling. I visited shamans, psychics, sweat lodges, caves and shrines.

In addition to all these things, I studied bits and pieces from the Bible, but believed the Christian world view was ‘kindergarten’ compared to the higher truths I contemplated. I believed the answers were just around the corner in the next conference, the next book, the next spiritual high. I was certain I was just one experience away from being the person I longed to be—so I kept plodding along—like the proverbial donkey following a carrot dangling in front of its nose. I felt like that donkey, but didn’t know what else to do. I was desperately seeking after the God of my childhood; I couldn’t stop until I felt His nearness again.

Traveling the World Over

My mother had a little rhyme she would repeat from time-to-time when I was a child. As I sat on her lap, she’d hold me in her arms, gently rocking me and saying, “Travel the whole world over. Sail the deep, blue sea. When your wanderlust is over, you can always return to me.” I wanted to travel the whole world over. I felt that if I were to visit some of the ‘sacred sites’ I’d read about, I would have a spiritual experience that would change me. I’d become the focused, confident, spiritually-enlightened person I longed to be.

In the mid-1980s my father became very ill with complications from heart disease and diabetes. I was grateful I could be with him in the hospital during the last weeks of his life. Even though Dad had not been to church in years, I learned our pastor visited my father and prayed with him. That meant a lot to me, and I noticed that Dad was remarkably calmer the last week of his life. He didn’t seem scared anymore or subject to fearsome apparitions. The man who could fly into a rage at the least provocation seemed peaceful for the first time in his life. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what may have happened. Dad made his peace with God.

After Dad’s passing, my wish was fulfilled. I traveled to many of the world’s sacred sites in Europe, the U.S. and Peru. I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours looking for God and searching for enlightenment. At one spiritual conference, I was suddenly lifted thirty feet in the air looking down at the top of everyone’s head—although physically my feet never left the floor. I felt giddy and elated for about twenty seconds, and then it was over. At an event in California a famous channeled entity challenged me when I said I had a “tremendous desire to serve people.” The supposed ‘Ascended Master’ scolded, “Serve thyself, entity!” I felt hurt. This ‘Enlightened Being’ had chastised me in front of 1200 followers and I felt like an idiot. How could I change the desire of my heart? “I’m hopeless,” I thought.

I visited Stonehenge and Glastonbury in England, in search of mystical encounters. One morning I rose before dawn and climbed Chalice Hill in Glastonbury, overlooking the site of mythical Avalon of Arthurian legend, supposed resting place of the Holy Grail. Standing alone beside St. Michael’s Tower, I looked out over the fog-laden valley. I felt no closer to God—or Camelot. I just felt alone.

In Scotland during a meditation, I astral projected out of my body, flipped over and was shocked to be nose-to-nose with my own tranquil self. Startled, I fell back into my physical form. The more I traveled, the more desperate I became to have an encounter that not only gave me a spiritual thrill, but provided both peace and inner fulfillment. After six months visiting dozens of sacred sites in twenty countries I felt agitated and hopeless. God was not to be found in these places.

I’m reminded what the angels said to Mary Magdalene and the other women who sought the body of Jesus at the tomb after His crucifixion. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!” (Luke 24:5-6).  I discovered there are no sacred sites magnetized to hold God’s presence. He’s just not there. But the “image of God” who walked on the earth nearly 2000 years ago is “risen” and now He’s “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 4:4, Hebrews 8:1). His Holy Spirit will also indwell all who ask Jesus to reside on the throne of their hearts and be Lord of their lives. But these mysteries were hidden from me then.

Back home I gave psychic readings and knew things about people I could not possibly have known through natural means. I later learned about what the Bible calls “familiar spirits,” demonic forces that often remain in families for generations. An ability to hear or ‘channel’ these spirits is a poor substitute for hearing and knowing the voice of God, as Jesus promises (“My sheep hear My voice,” John 10:27).

I sought God in the spectacular. I wanted proof that He was real. I later discovered, as the prophet Elijah did, that God is not often found in the intense spiritual fireworks our physical senses crave, but in the comfort of hearing and knowing His “still small voice” leading us through life. (See 1 Kings 19:10-13.) The supernatural experiences, while they thrilled me for the moment, left me empty, restless, and craving another ‘fix.’

The ‘Dangerous Question’

After my parents died, I decided to leave a so-so career as an actor in New York City for the seeming serenity of a New Age community in the Ozark foothills. “Why stay in New York?” I asked myself. “Let me go where I’m happy and start my life over again.” Since I didn’t find God in my travels to sacred sites, I hoped settling in a community centered on a person channeling an Ascended Master would bring me closer to the source of enlightenment.

Not surprisingly, the change of scenery did not change me. As the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The empty feelings and unhappiness followed me from New York City. Although I would have insisted that I preferred being alone, in truth I was lonely. I wanted someone to love me for myself. In the end, it was the loneliness that brought me to my knees.

The first time I surrendered to God was the most difficult thing I’d ever done. Control has always been important to me. No one likes feeling helpless. When I became aware of my mother’s psychological weaknesses as a child, I remember clenching my fists and saying to myself, “I will never be weak. I will always be strong.” (Of course, it didn’t work—I was a practicing alcoholic from the ages of thirteen to twenty-nine.)

In the spring of 1987 I was driving home, when a ‘dangerous’ question entered my mind.

“What if everything you thought about God was completely wrong. Would you be willing to give it up to know the Truth?”

That question was dangerous because it led me to doubt what I thought I knew. I had a lot invested in the New Age and yoga—twenty-two years of my life.  I was even being groomed for a leadership position in my community. That breathtaking question begged an answer. “If everything I thought about God was completely wrong,” I said aloud. “Would I be willing to give it all up to know the truth?” Well, if I was wrong… “Yes,” I answered, “Yes, I’m willing, if I can know the truth.” The next day I came to the end of myself.

April Fool?

April 1st I was alone with my border collie Tula in my little house. I kept walking around the kitchen, calling out to God. From the depths of my being I cried, “I surrender. I give up. You win. If You can do something with this life, You can have it.” In my heart, I spoke to the Jesus of my childhood. I asked Him to forgive me for making such a mess of my life. “If You want me to be alone, then give me peace,” I said between sobs. “If You want me to be with someone, then send him soon, because I can’t live like this anymore.”

I fell on my knees and then on my face. As I did, it felt like a physical weight lifted off me and something I’d never experienced before—peace, like a dove descended upon me. It not only came upon me; it filled me. This peace was not the mind-numbing serenity I’d experienced in yoga meditation. It was not the blissful emptiness where nothing really mattered. I felt loved and embraced, accepted and fully, vibrantly alive.

His Peace: the Missing Piece

Peace. I’d never known how good it could feel. From the center of that peace came joy. This was not mere happiness or the giddy delight of opening presents. For the first time in my life I felt complete. Perhaps the best word for it is shalom in Hebrew—which means peace, wholeness, and completeness: nothing missing, nothing broken.

“For He Himself is our peace,” the Apostle Paul wrote of Jesus in the New Testament (Ephesians 2:14). For me, His peace was the missing piece. I gave God everything I had, every mixed-up, messed-up part—and He gave me Himself: love, strength and glorious, childlike joy.

The Jesus of my childhood, the One who laughed at my jokes, was not a religion, but a Person. You don’t have religion with a person; you have a relationship. That’s what I’d been looking for all my life—to actually know God. I wanted to hear His voice, to love Him—and to feel His love for me.

Oh, how I wished someone had told me sooner that I could have a real relationship with God! Why did no one tell me that all the knowledge in the world could not equal one spark of true revelation? By being willing to give up everything I thought I knew about God, I came to know the Truth—not a debatable philosophy or mindset, but a Person, the One who said, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

That April Fool’s Day I went from being a fool for the world to a fool for Christ. I don’t worry about looking or sounding foolish for sharing the love of Jesus. How I wish others had been willing to be that foolish when I was so lost and alone—imprisoned behind the wall of separation from God! Shortly after I surrendered to God I realized I no longer had any desire to drink the bottles of Italian wine I’d consumed on an almost daily basis for sixteen years. In God’s great mercy, He removed the ‘yoke.’

Remember my prayer, “If You want me to be alone, then give me peace. If You want me to be with someone, then send him soon…” Four days after presenting that request to the true God, I met Paul. We were married three months later, on the 4th of July, 1987. I found out—God will give you the desires of your heart when your heart gets aligned with Him.

God Turns Stumblingblocks into Steppingstones

God has a sense of humor—and He never wastes a thing in our lives. He turns curses into blessings, darkness into light and stumblingblocks into steppingstones. The gifts and natural talents I enjoyed sharing from childhood onward, and the dreams I harbored for years, have found a far more powerful and fruitful fulfillment in my relationship with Him.

One of the reasons I left the theater was the emptiness: the applause no longer satisfied me. Since then I’ve been blessed to present a number of original theater performances through our company, DoveTale Productions. Remember how the ‘Ascended Master’ rebuked me for my desire to serve others? Now that desire is being fulfilled in part through theatrical productions that have a real purpose. I’ve heard that the word ‘entertainment’ comes from a Latin word which means “to serve.” Entertaining others felt hollow in the beginning, because I didn’t feel I had anything worthwhile to share. Now I do. I no longer entertain to be served by others’ handclaps and accolades, but because I finally have something meaningful to give.

Since 1993 I’ve presented one-woman shows and ensemble productions in theaters, schools and community centers through the Arts Council and Indian Education. I have long had a great love and appreciation for Cherokee culture and history, and now write, direct and perform in “Under the Cherokee Moon” every summer at the Cherokee Heritage Center and National Museum in northeastern Oklahoma. These dramatic performances bring 18th and 19th century Cherokee history to life with actors speaking directly to the audience words attributed to the historical figures they are portraying. The audience becomes part of the show and interacts with the actors in ways that bring history ‘off the page.’

I’ve also been amazed that my years in yoga have not been wasted either. Since childhood I knew yoga was more than ‘just exercise.’ It’s a doorway to the New Age, Hinduism and misleading supernatural experiences. Once I became a follower of Jesus Christ, I turned away from yoga the same way I turned away from channeling, tarot cards and past life recall. None of these practices had a place in my life anymore. I liken fellowship with Jesus to drinking from a crystal clear stream of living water. Why would I want to partake of anything less?

The God who laughed at my jokes and comforted me in the darkness of my closet has become the center of peace and light within my own heart. I would have never guessed that all the spiritual fulfillment I craved could be found in relationship with the JESUS of the Bible (YESHUA), the Living Word and Creator of the universe.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Laurette Willis is the founder/director of PRAISEMOVES, a popular, biblically-based alternative to yoga. She has two PraiseMoves telecasts (one for children and one for adults) seen by a potential audience of over 250 million people globally, as well as Certified PraiseMoves Instructors on six continents. She lives in the Ozark foothills of northeastern Oklahoma with her husband, Paul, who shares her vision of impacting the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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2 comments
  • I love this testimony!! I love that you work with the Cherokee play in Oklahoma too. That gives me so much encouragement that maybe God will use my respect for Native peoples in the future too 🙏 Super encouraging.

    I’m really sorry about your mom. Thank you for sharing. I’m sure someone can relate and will be helped because you are brave enough to share!

    • Thank you for your sweet words, Lauren. The Lord never wastes a thing. He has taken every negative in my life and turned it around into something that can actually be a blessing to others.

      The gifts, talents, and abilities the Lord gives us will also be used to His glory when we submit them to Him. What a marvelous God we serve!

      “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

      🙌🥰🙌 May God richly bless you!!!

Written by Mike Shreve